Learning to Learn: How to Find Training and Classes that Work for You

Learning to Learn: How to Find Training and Classes that Work for You

Jennifer Laabs

There’s an ancient saying: When the student is ready, the teacher will come. Then there’s the Bible quote: Seek, and ye shall find. Combining ancient wisdom with modern insight for human resources professionals looking for training translates into this: Great HR training can be found just about everywhere–if you look for it.

It’s the flip side of HR professionals’ usual role: learner instead of trainer. Most HR generalists already know how to plan training and development programs for their employees. But what happens when it comes to designing their own career-development strategies? What if you want to tap into a course on advanced online recruiting, global HR management, mergers and acquisitions, or managing telecommuters? Some HR pros are lucky enough to have a corporate university on-site or nearby. Many of them have built these universities themselves. Such companies as Sears, McDonald’s, and Dell Computer provide employees, including HR professionals, with access to all types of training opportunities.

Other HR managers don’t have access to on-site universities and must find training outside their organizations. But it’s no sweat. These days, just about any type of human resources training you can imagine–from online coursework in how to conduct performance reviews to one-one-one training in executive leadership–is available. Whether you want to get continuing education units, professional certification, an advanced degree, or simply want to beef up your HR skills, there’s an institution Out there to help you. It just takes a little research to find the right one for your needs.

Good first steps are to evaluate your career development needs and discover how you learn best.

Discover your learning style

“An individual’s learning style is more basic than personality itself,” writes William E. Casner in “Real-Time Learning for Real-Time Teamwork,” Technical Training magazine (May/June 1998). “Each person gathers and processes information in a unique way, and this process is reflected in learning styles.”

To figure out your preferred learning style, it’s helpful to think about how you prefer learning new information in other areas of your life. For example, if you wanted to learn how to program a new VCR, would you prefer to have someone show you how to use it, or would you read the manual? Maybe you’d you just start fiddling with the remote and hope for the best. One way isn’t better than another. Individuals’ preferred learning styles can differ widely.

“I work for a nonprofit, and I’m a one-person department, so it’s hard to find the time to go to outside training,” says Linda Konstan, director of HR for the American Humane Association in Englewood, Colorado and principal of LMK Associates based in Denver. “I despise conferences with their (what I consider) silly workshops. To me, HR conferences are purely for networking and not for ‘learning.'”

Other human resources professionals obviously disagree. That’s evident in the numerous HR conferences available, such as the American Management Association’s annual human resources conference, which registers thousands of attendees.

Sometimes, it’s best to combine learning styles for the best retention. “The challenge (and the art) lies in matching content areas with the most appropriate training methods,” advises The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development (Jossey-Bass, August 1998). “For greatest effectiveness, multiple methods should be used. For example, lectures are needed in most skill-based training because they are the most efficient way to deliver large amounts of information and theory. But no matter how well done, lectures alone are never sufficient.”

This is true for Konstan, who says: “My learning style is to listen, then read about it. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to go listen to someone else. I suspect many HR pros are in the same boat…in my own private consulting practice one of the things I do for my clients is give them weekly updates on new issues, laws or whatever, and they’re very appreciative.”

Figuring out what method you need also might depend on what you need to learn. Sometimes a group or class setting is best for HR topics. You might retain other subjects simply by reading about them. “I used to be a researcher, and I still seem to read [a lot] and go online for daily items (like Benefits Link),” says Konstan. “That’s my training. By the time workshops like ’employment law updates’ hit town, I already know about the newest laws, so why attend?”

But such in-person exchanges are highly valued by other learners. “I work in a medium-sized department and have an interest in employment law,” says Daniel E. “Dan” Bon sick, senior human resources representative at Lockheed Martin Control Systems in Johnson City, New York. “I have taken a number of employment-law classes in an effort to be the expert in my department. Others [in my HR group] are specializing in FMLA ADA, comp and benefits.”

“I learn best by discussing and exchanging thoughts as opposed to listening,” says Peter Firla, director of HR at Accurate Forging Corp. in Bristol, Connecticut But he has a caveat to his preference for in-person training: “I look for opportunities to participate in the learning process rather than being taught?’ Indeed, if the instructor who’s teaching the course doesn’t foster an interactive learning environment (and that’s your preference), your rating for in-person training can significantly drop from “highly preferred” to “highly undesirable.” It pays to ask the right questions about any training you’re signing up for before you plunk down your (or your employer’s) money.

And of course, available resources also play a big part in what types of training HR professionals can and will use.

“Sometimes the decision is based on which courses [your] employer will pay for,” says Lynne McClure, a Mesa, Arizona-based management consultant with McClure Associates Management Consultants Inc. “I do what I need to do,” says Bonsick. “My company does a good job of paying for training.” But, he adds that he took the PHR exam on his own dime.

Set goals and priorities early and make time for learning

Too often, weeks fly by and business crises get in the way. But HR professionals who understand the need for skills building throughout an organization should know better than most why training needs be a top priority in their own schedules. If you’re unable to set those priorities for yourself, maybe you’re a candidate for courses through Salt Lake City-based Franklin Covey Co. (www.franklincovey.com). That course, among others, can help you set priorities and learn how to put first things first.

Break out of your learning rut

With so many new types of learning delivery methods, there are many you may have never tried. You may simply have to sample some new styles, if they seem to fit your needs and your budget, to discover whether they’ll work for you. If you can’t discover your best learning style on your own, get help.

“Find someone with the wisdom and tools to help you make the determination,” says Firla. “You won’t be surprised at the result, but this is sometimes hard to determine without an external resource.”

In the end, you may not always get to choose a training course based on your most preferred learning delivery method. “Sometimes, convenience is more important than one’s favorite learning style and it’s easier to take what’s available right now,” says McClure. “In these cases, it may help to think of the ‘different’ or ‘least-favored’ learning style as an exercise in adapting.”

Finding training

E-learning? Web-based training? Multimedia presentations? In-person instruction? When there are so many learning options, how do you figure out where to go for your own training needs? You know about the HR training opportunities for your employees that flood the marketplace every day–that’s your job. You may not be as familiar with what’s out there for HR pros. Here’s a quick rundown of some options:

* Most local community colleges and universities offer various types of basic HR courses through their professional development or continuing education departments. Many universities provide in-person instruction, and an increasing number of universities provide Web-based coursework options. OnlineLearnng.net, for example, offers courses in advanced leadership and an HR lab. The University of Phoenix (www.phoenix.edu) offers doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate degree programs as well as certificate programs in HR management.

* Myriad training companies offer continuing education courses as well. Achieve-Global (www.achieveglobal.com), for example, offers classes and modules on such subjects as workplace collaboration principles and gaining commitment to preset goals. Many training companies and consultants offer audiocassettes and CD-ROMs. Corpedia LLC (www.corpedia.com) has CD-ROM and online courses in wrongful termination and the prevention of workplace harassment, among many other topics.

* Online portals such as TrainSeek.com let you find, preview, compare, and buy all types of training in an Amazon.com style. Need to know if the distance-education courses you’re considering taking are, indeed, accredited? Visit the Accredited Distance Learning Degrees site: www.accrediteddldegrees.com.

* Your peers, other co-workers and members of professional societies, such as the American Society for Training and Development in Alexandria, Virginia, may have useful information about additional resources. Your own training department might have information that can benefit your search for HR learning options.

In the end, you might find help from another old saying: You are the master of your own destiny. HR training translation: Pick what works for you and run with it.

COPYRIGHT 2000 ACC Communications Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group